Understanding a New Jersey DWI/DUI

Around the holidays, there is always a spike in the number of people calling about charges related to driving while intoxicated (DWI/ DUI).  It makes sense, as we are inundated with invitations to holiday parties, family gatherings and numerous other events where people tend to cut loose and have a few drinks.  In my experience, most individuals charged with DWI in New Jersey are not falling down drunk, or what we may call drunk in a social sense, but have simply operated a vehicle with a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) than the State of New Jersey has deemed appropriate, currently .08 or above.  New Jersey drivers really need to understand that even if you feel sober, and can recite the alphabet backwards, touch your nose, etc...you still may find yourself charged with DWI based on your BAC, usually determined by a breath test known as the Alcotest machine, successor to the Breathalyzer.

A defense attorney will examine the evidence and explore a number of avenues to attack the prosecution case.  The attorney will try to determine; whether the motor vehicle stop valid? Can the State prove operation of the vehicle? Did the police have probable cause to ask the driver to submit to a breath test? Etc… A substantial portion of the attorney’s time and attention will be focused on the BAC results and seeking to invalidate them.  In many cases, the successful defense of a DWI charge turns on the validity of the breath test.

Fighting a DWI charge is unlike any other offense in New Jersey, and can be more complex to defend than more serious criminal offenses due to the technology involved and the State’s continuing crackdown on intoxicated drivers.  DWI cases are difficult, but they can be won. 

 

Penalties 

The consequences of a DWI conviction in New Jersey are amongst the most severe in the country.  A first time offender with a .08 reading will be sentenced to a minimum 3 months loss of license, 12-48 hours in the intoxicated drivers resource center and approximately $3,755 in fines, fees and surcharges.  The penalties are more severe for higher BAC readings and for those with prior convictions.  A third time offender will be sentenced to 180 days in jail and a 10 year loss of license.  See the full breakdown of penalties HERE.

Unlike other states, New Jersey does not allow for a conditional or “worker’s” license, meaning a driver suspended for DWI cannot operate a vehicle for any reason.  If a driver is caught operating a vehicle while under suspension for DWI, there are substatial enhanced penalties, including mandatory jail time.

 

Refusal to Submit Breath Samples

Refusing to submit to a breath test in New Jersey is a separate offense in and of itself (N.J.S. 39:4-50.4a).  Many people arrested on suspicion of DWI believe that the way to “beat” a DWI is to refuse to provide a breath sample.  That may have been the case years ago, but the State of New Jersey has since closed that loophole by enacting stiff penalties for those that refuse to take the test.  A first conviction for refusal carries a minimum 7 month loss of license (up to 12 months) and the same financial penalties of a DWI.  See the full breakdown HERE.  (Note-the law on this issue differs from state to state, the foregoing only apples to the NJ).